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D. O. Fágúnwà.

Wọlé Ṣóyínká has long been the preeminent scholar on D. O. Fágúnwà, the great Yorùbá-language writer two of whose books, The Forest of a Thousand Daemons (Ògbójú Ọdẹ Nínú Igbó Irúnmalè) and The Forest of Olodumare (Igbó Olódùmarè), he translated. This August, to mark Ṣóyínká’s 85th birthday this year, the Fágúnwà Study Group will celebrate the two writers’ association with an international conference themed “Wọlé Ṣóyínká: Wọlé Ṣóyínká, D. O. Fágúnwà, and the Yorùbá Artistic Heritage,” in Akure, Ondo State, Nigeria. It will be the Group’s second international conference, following 2013’s “D. O. Fagunwa: Fifty Years On/D. O. Fagunwa: Aadota Odun Lehin Ti O Papoda,” which marked the 50th anniversary of his death and where Ṣóyínká gave the keynote lecture and wrote the Foreword for the resulting conference book, Celebrating D. O. Fágúnwà: Aspects of African and World Literary History (2017), edited by Adeleke Adeeko and Akin Adesokan.

Wọlé Ṣóyínká. Photo credit: Kola Tubosun and Abiola Balogun.

The Fágúnwà Study Group, headed by the literary critic and University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Tejumola Olaniyan, is an informal group expanding “the frontiers of research into Yoruba culture and its global impact” and Fágúnwà’s influence in literature.

Born in 1903 in Òkè-Igbó, Ondo State, Nigeria, D. O. Fágúnwà, writing mostly in Yoruba, became one of the best-known figures of the pioneering generation of African writers, influencing many others including Amos Tutuola. His books include the novels Ògbójú Ọdẹ Nínú Igbó Irúnmalè (The Forest of a Thousand Daemons, trans. Wole Soyinka, 1937), Igbó Olódùmarè (The Forest of Olodumare, trans. Wole Soyinka, 1949), Ìrìnkèrindò Nínú Igbó Elégbèje (Expedition to the Mount of Thought, trans. Dapo Adeniyi, 1954), Ìrèké Oníbùdó, and Àdììtú Olódùmarè (The Mysteries of God, trans. Olu Obafemi, 1961); and the two-volume travel memoir: Ìrìnàjò, Apá Kinní (1949) and Ìrìnàjò, Apá Kejì (1951).

Credit: Bolerium Books.

From the Fágúnwà Study Group’s website:

Fágúnwà was a top-notch educationist and contributed also to the study of Yoruba language through his joint authorship with L.J. Lewis of Táíwò àti Kẹ́hìndé, a pioneer text for the teaching of Yoruba language in primary schools.  Fágúnwà’s influence on the development of writing in indigenous languages in Nigeria has been immense.  This is to be seen not only in writers who have tried to follow his style and mimic it in their own works but also in other writers who have been inspired to write in indigenous languages, thanks to Fágúnwà’s own pioneering example.  The development of Yoruba language at all levels has benefitted from his original efforts.

Perhaps Fágúnwà’s greatest impact has been his style of using literature, especially the development of his characters and the projects that he sets them to, to advance morality and other ethical values in society.  People are called upon to follow the examples of the heroes of his novels in their commitment to progress, improvement of their societies, and the use of reason in solving human problems, all attributes given by God to humans to praise him and manifest his munificence.  Nor must we forget his nationalism, cultural and political, designed to refute the racist denigration of black genius and achievement.  Fágúnwà’s continuing relevance is to be found in the fact that the Nigerian, and wider global African, world are still confronted by all the challenges addressed in his novels, and can use a lot of the resolutions canvassed by him through his many original characters.

“We felt this year that Soyinka is 85, there was need to celebrate this icon of African literature. And every thing that should be done to celebrate him must be in the right direction,” Fágúnwà Study Group member and chair of the local organising committee Tunde Babawale told The Guardian Nigeria. “Their works seem to interact at several points, even though they wrote in two different languages. They both drank from the same cultural well. We are particularly motivated that these two literary figures have done a lot not just to promote the Yoruba artistic heritage but also Africa’s artistic heritage. To a large extent they have been able to raise a lot of issues about the positive aspects of our tradition.”

The Conference’s keynote speakers are Adeleke Adeeko, African American and African Studies professor at Ohio State University, and Moradehun Ajetumobi, literature lecturer at the University of California.

Event Details

Conference Theme: Wọlé Ṣóyínká: Wọlé Ṣóyínká, D. O. Fágúnwà, and the Yorùbá Artistic Heritage

Date: 7-10 August 2019

Venue: International Culture and Events Centre (The Dome), Akure, Ondo State, Nigeria

For inquiries, email: fsgconf@gmail.com

For more information, visit: The Fágúnwà Study Group website.

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About Otosirieze Obi-Young

View all posts by Otosirieze Obi-Young
Otosirieze Obi-Young is a writer, journalist, & Deputy Editor of Brittle Paper. He sits on the judging panels of The Miles Morland Writing Scholarships and of The Gerald Kraak Prize. He is Nonfiction Editor at 14, Nigeria’s first queer art collective, which has published volumes including We Are Flowers (2017) and The Inward Gaze (2018). He is Curator at The Art Naija Series, a sequence of e-anthologies of writing and visual art focusing on different aspects of Nigerianness, including Enter Naija: The Book of Places (2016), which explores cities, and Work Naija: The Book of Vocations (2017), which explores professions. His work in queer equality advocacy in literature has been profiled in Literary Hub. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review and Transition. He has completed a collection of short stories, You Sing of a Longing, is working on a novel, and is represented by David Godwin Associates literary agency. He has an M.A. in African Studies and a combined honours B.A. in History & International Studies/English & Literary Studies, both from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He taught English in a private Nigerian university. He is currently nominated for the inaugural The Future Awards Prize for Literature. Find him at otosirieze.com, where he accepts writing and editing offers, or on Instagram or Twitter: @otosirieze. When bored, he Googles Rihanna.

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